By Michael Belanger -
The first night Tina began talking in her sleep, she told Jim to shut the fridge. Jim’s eyes sprang open and he sat up, watching the fuzzy shapes in his darkened bedroom come into focus. He glanced at Tina, whose eyes remained shut, before unfolding himself from the covers and making the trek downstairs.
As Jim rounded the corner to the kitchen, he was amazed to find the fridge door open. Light puddled onto the floor, outlining the condiment shelves in stark relief, a shadowy cityscape of bottles and jars. He blinked twice, just to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. Tiptoeing across the tile, he felt the cold air billowing from the fridge. Jim laughed quietly to himself. Tina must have noticed the open fridge last night and forgotten to close it; that explained the subconscious sleep babble. Standing in front of the brightly lit fridge, Jim touched the side of the milk carton and felt the condensation. He pressed the damp to his neck as if putting on cologne. Since he was already up, he poured himself a bowl of cereal.
The next morning, he and Tina laughed about it. She agreed with Jim’s hypothesis, though couldn’t recall seeing the fridge cracked open.
“That’s what it means to be in your subconscious,” Jim said.
“Now you’re a Freudian?”
“We’re all Freudians,” Jim said.
Tina laughed and Jim was happy he’d met someone who could find humor in a joke like that.
The next night, Tina shouted at Jim to lock the front door. Jim stirred, and once again sat up, waiting for the fuzzy shapes to sharpen. With the garish light from the fridge still in his mind, Jim forced himself out of bed. Clutching the railing to take pressure off his aching joints, he walked downstairs to the front door. Tina was right; the door was unlocked. It was easy enough to imagine a similar set of circumstances as the open fridge—a quick glance, a piece of information filed away for later and forgotten—but it wasn’t like Tina to leave something undone. Jim had investigated the dreams, fears, and hopes of hundreds of clients over the years, but something about this mundane affliction confounded him. What was her subconscious trying to tell her? Still groggy, and not wanting to plumb the depths of Tina’s psychology, Jim locked the door and returned to bed.
At breakfast the next morning, Jim told Tina about her latest midnight command. They laughed about it as they sipped their coffee, but for just a moment, Jim thought he saw a flash of fear on Tina’s face, a loss of control that unsettled her. He resolved to never bring up the sleep talking again.
More commands followed over the coming weeks: turn the oven off, draw the curtains, free their cat, Muffin, from the closet. Each time, sure enough, Tina’s middle of the night pronouncement proved to be true. Jim wondered how they suddenly began forgetting so many of the daily chores of living. He also couldn’t find a rational explanation for Tina’s middle-of-the-night unease. While his theory of the subconscious took him far enough, some of her sleep babble didn’t fit into the neat box of reason, like the time she plainly stated that a raccoon had gotten into their garbage. Even though Jim found it ridiculous, he still buttoned up his coat over his pajamas and marched outside, only to find garbage strewn all across the driveway.
Remembering Tina’s unease, Jim kept the nightly sojourns to himself. But the secret had driven a wedge between them. Not that he resented her for it; more so that he resented anything shaking his worldview, the bedrock of his being. As soon as the rational glue holding his universe together dissolved, he worried he’d be thrown into chaos, a Jungian landscape filled with archetypes, alchemy, and supernatural sleep talking.
The first night Jim slept on the couch he feigned a cold, sniffling as he gathered his pillow and a spare blanket. Tina peered over her book and smiled sympathetically at him. The worst part was he couldn’t even ask for a kiss. The couch was cold and lumpy and every time he rolled over, he ran into Muffin, who seemed annoyed by his new roommate. Worse, the next night, he woke up to a burst pipe in the basement. He was sure, had he stayed upstairs, Tina would’ve warned him.
Jim scoured the internet about sleep talking, obliquely asked colleagues, even consulted the DSM, until he finally accepted that nothing of use existed in the literature. After four nights on the couch, which coincided with a leaking toilet, blown circuit, bat in the shutters, and the inconvenient but not disastrous garage door left open, Jim decided to return to his bedroom, accepting his midnight quests as penance for being with the woman he loved.
The day of his return to the bedroom, Jim inspected the house, looking for anything out of sorts that might trip up Tina’s sixth sense; that’s how he’d begun thinking about it, a sixth sense for minor household afflictions. It wasn’t invisibility or flying or telepathy, but it was its own version of a superpower.
Jim fell asleep and a few hours later, just like all those times before, he was awoken by Tina, her voice frayed and tightened in warning. After going downstairs to turn the bathroom faucet off, he returned to bed and wrapped his arm around Tina, not understanding her psychic sleep talking, but thankful all the same.
Michael Belanger is an author and high school history teacher. His debut novel, The History of Jane Doe, was a finalist for the Connecticut Book Award and received a Kirkus starred review. He is a member of the Westport Writers’ Workshop and faculty advisor to Greenwitch, a high school literary magazine that has published talented young writers—including Truman Capote—for over a hundred years. He currently lives in Connecticut.